Devil Sushi Dare
Testing one’s mettle versus Harumi nigiri – plus a new Big Sur spot.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
It doesn’t appear on the menu with the yummy orgy of tempura that is the Captain Crunch Roll ($13.50) or the stylish Big Sur ($11.50) with its unagi, crab salad, avocado and ebi wrapped in cucumber.
You won’t find it listed with the tasty Garden Roll ($8.50) and its yam-and fried-cream-cheese ingredients, or the seemingly endless other maki at Harumi Sushi (899-9988) in Seaside – the Bamboo Curtain, Eternal Sunshine or Sexy Sexy ($10.25-$12.50) among them.
It’s the “sushi challenge,” and should you ask for it, what you will find is yourself in a different place.
The challenge: Eat the secret-recipe one-piece Chef Joey Kim makes. Only then does he tell you what’s in it. The place it takes you: a world of hurt.
Salinas native Kim says he was talking to our rolls as he made them. Soon I was talking to God – asking why I had to chomp it in one bite, among other things – and simultaneously sweating, crying and hiccuping. Through the red haze occupying my eyes I could see Kim grinning his chopsticks off.
My colleague Gabe Skvor ate one himself. Minutes later he was dumping sugar packets in his water. Apparently that helped. I stuck with starchy udon noodles to try to temper the wildfire.
And that scorching 10 minutes – or was it 15? 20? – was only the beginning.
Such is life when the sadist at the sushi bar has carefully worked ghost peppers, ghost-pepper sauce and ghost-pepper flakes into spicy tuna before adding a happy face of spicy mayo on top.
“It looks delightful,” he laughs, “but inside it’s Satan.”
“Glad I did it, but you won’t catch me doing that again,” Skvor emailed the next day, while my own stomach continued to cope. “[I] was high last night, from eating that thing, in a different way than I’ve ever been.”
He went on. “Slept like s***. Woke up in the middle of the night, heart racing, and had to take off the blanket.”
In a crowded buffet of sushi joints, Harumi does something smart: It goes for what customers want. If one conceives a tasty special, they roll with it. Note the Megan’s Roll (salmon, avocado, jalapeño, cilantro, masago topped with tuna, yellow tail and spicy mayo, $12.50) or the Lana (shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado, topped with tuna, yellow tail, unagi, sweet sauce, green onion, $12.50). The challenge itself was first inspired by a client named Charles; seems the seeds from 10 jalapeños weren’t hot enough. Then Kim discovered ghost peppers.
“It’s like you told me,” Kim says. “There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that take challenges and… ”
When I called the next day I told the Carmel resident something else: I was a lawyer representing the men who took the challenge a night earlier.
“Damn,” he laughed later. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going back to jail!’”
• One tasty surprise from the Big Sur Chanterelle Cook-off, among many: The debut of Coast Gallery Cafe (667-2301) and Chef Matt Farmer. He just opened his scenic cafe Presidents’ Day weekend and, if his majestic chanterelle soup is any indication, dude knows what he’s doing. The seven-days-a-week menu (10am-5pm until extended spring hours) includes things like edamame potato salad ($5), organic Big Sur smoothies ($6), a Cowgirl Creamery cheese and charcuterie board ($22), Ventana turkey salad ($14) and Portola sandwich ($16), with roasted pork, Hearthstone ham, grilled onions, Wagon Wheel cheese and pimentón aioli on sourdough. For a video report from the cook-off, visit the blog.
• Marina’s Bamboo Pavilion is now Yaki Maki (883-9045), a sushi joint.
• Find me more tender calamari than the butter-soft stuff at Chamisal’s Courtside Cafe (484-1135 x17) or Sand Bar & Grill (373-2818) and I will buy you a Chamisal sand dab slider or a Sand Bar crab-club sandwich. After snacking on both last week, I noticed something else they have in common: Gonzalo the busser. Surely he could tell me why those two calamari dishes were so similarly superb. He says they use the same source and Chammy Chef David Frappeia used to helm the Sand Bar kitchen.
• I have both candidates for Carmel mayor, restaurateur Rich Pepe and City Councilman Jason Burnett, on the record saying they want and need to see an open-air market featuring restaurants and entertainment in their town to boost the hamlet’s walkability and foodieness (Dolores Avenue would be perfect).” If you win, Jason, I hope you follow through,” Pepe said. “If I win, I hope I follow through.” Visit the blog for more, including how Burnett features food as part of his platform.
• MEarth at Hilton Bialek Habitat (624-1032), the land where students learn to tend heirloom orchards, vermicompost and chef garden-fresh chards and chives, is eyeing an official March 31 grand opening of its sparkling kitchen-classroom, an event starring school-minded chefs and all sorts of educational inspiration. More soon.
• Spotted an interesting trend in Emeryville at a magnetic new spot called Prizefighter (prizefighterbar.com), done by some of the same studs behind Bloodhound (415-863-2840) on Folsom in S.F.: “Punch Bowls,” like Mutiny on the Bounty (gin, elderflower, cherry tea and mint) for $50, serving six to eight.
• Go girls: Elena Salsedo-Steele of Sweet Elena’s (393-2063) is firing up something extra sweet with a celebration of women’s strength – and 20 years in business – this Sunday, March 4. Anticipate Ventana Vineyards and Holman Ranch wines, live music and snacks befitting our readers’ vote for Best Restaurant in Sand City. All proceeds from the $20 entrance – plus 20 percent of art sales from standout local female artists participating in a show synched with the event – go to local women’s shelters.
• Ambitious Ag Against Hunger benefit coming this way. Saturday, March 10, “Fire & Ice” ($95) unleashes Money Band, Extra Large, Talbott wines, fire-and-ice martinis and Kurt Grasing small bites on Sunset Center. VIP tix ($195) include a pop-up dinner featuring Talbott and Grasing pairings at Studio 105. 899-5488.
• “The only time you run out of chances,” said some anonymous fan of spicy food, “is when you stop taking them.”